Like her best-known novel, The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's new Oryx And Crake begins in a seemingly alien future, then dips back into the past to show how it came into existence. But unlike Handmaid, Oryx And Crake focuses more on the past than on the strange new world that followed; where Handmaid was a dystopian adventure, the new book is more of a speculative elegy for a consumerist, arrogant society Atwood perceives as being not far from our own. Atwood channels her story through Snowman, a man who lives in the wreckage of the civilized world, where ordinary items like hubcaps and bleach bottles are ancient artifacts to the survivors around him–people without facial hair, people who heal their wounded by purring over them, people who are utterly without aggression, resentment, jealousy, or anger. Snowman refers to them as "Crakers," and functions as sort of a cranky elder shaman to their tribe, pretending to possess a wisdom and knowledge he lacks, and hiding his weaknesses from them while eking out a desperate, solitary living in the rubble. Oryx And Crake eventually dives into his memories of growing up in a socially divided world where genetic engineering was the wave of the future, and where scientists and technicians crowded into luxurious but rigidly controlled corporate arcologies to create the next wave of designer foods, drugs, and animals they would market to the suffering lower classes. And, as Snowman remembers, the connections begin slowly falling together. Oryx And Crake is somewhere between a Neal Stephenson future-tech novel and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend: It focuses closely on the day-to-day trivia of life both in a decaying, overcrowded world and in a post-apocalyptic, near-empty one, and it's packed with fascinating ideas. But in its focus on high concepts and ground-level details, it tends to leave out the middle ground. Nevertheless, for a stylist of Atwood's talent, an omission of that scale could hardly be anything other than deliberate. Through her protagonist's fractured perspective, she builds a dual mythology based on deliberate secrecy: In the one Snowman shares with others, Crake is an all-seeing thunder god in the sky, while Oryx is the invisible mother of all life. In his internal mythology, the two people he was closest to are just as mysterious and unapproachable. Like so many legendary figures, they defy classification and analysis, even up close. With recent books like The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace, Atwood explored the relationship of true history, memory, and myth, and Oryx And Crake takes up the theme yet again. But Atwood's latest is her most accessible book in years, a gripping, unadorned story that abandons most of her usual opacity and teasing complexity. What's left behind is a compelling parable about where our world may be going, and what may be remembered about us when it gets there.